Tourism ministry in allowance storm

via Tourism ministry in allowance storm | The Financial Gazette by Shame Makoshori 28 Nov 2013

JUNIOR officers in the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry are understood to have raised a storm over a plan for hefty allowances by senior officials for their participation at a recent world tourism indaba after they petitioned President Robert Mugabe on the issue.The junior officials challenged a plan by directors and other senior civil servants to award themselves US$10 000 each for representing Zimbabwe during the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) summit in August.

Those who attended the summit, which was co-hosted by the resort towns of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Livingstone in Zambia, included tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, former permanent secretary, Margaret Sangarwe and at least 20 other officials.

Mzembi confirmed this week that there had been a deadlock over allowances but indicated that it had since been resolved.

While he said “no one was paid that sort of money”, the minister indicated that US$10 000 was “absolutely nothing” considering the quality of work that some ministry officials did during UNWTO summit.

“The matter was dealt with,” he said.

“Everyone was given money commensurate to their contribution. There were people who went to Victoria Falls a day before UNWTO. Others had relocated there for three to four months. This is different from people who were sitting in a finance office in Harare who now want the same allowance,” Mzembi said.

“We paid motivational, out of pocket allowances for staff who made this event a success. They were not given US$10 000. It’s pointless to write a false story. Let’s focus on the development of the sector. I don’t have energy for this. My brief is to grow revenue for the sector,” he said in response to questions from this newspaper.

Under the controversial windfall plan, the ministry had sidestepped the rest of officials who remained in Harare during UNWTO.

The junior workers say they equally put extra effort to ensure that the event was a success and warned that the plan would encounter headwinds unless the ministry reconsidered its position.

The Financial Gazette’s Companies & markets (C&M) understands that in September, the deadlock escalated, forcing the restive officers to dispatch the “highly confidential” letter to the Office of the President and Cabinet (OPC).

The letter to OPC was written following a string of confrontational memorandums which failed to generate a breakthrough.

C&M understands that directors had initially backed down by reviewing their allowances to US$4 500 each, under a compromise deal that would see the rest getting US$500.

“It is a scandal,” an official familiar with the developments said.

“They were told that US$500 was a pittance,” she said.

While the drama played out within the lower strata, Mzembi, who is understood to have been enraged after getting wind of the plan, was in the dark.

“We had to generate a memorandum, which was copied to the minister, the permanent secretary, all directors and OPC demanding that they justify the outrageous payments,” another source told C&M.

The memorandum demanded Sangarwe, who was dropped and replaced by Florence Nhekairo in a reshuffle after the July 31 polls, to do the following:

-Justify the expenditure before paying it.

-Explain the selection criteria used to shower officials with US$10 000 allowances.

-Explain how the US$10 000 was arrived at, and explain the huge disparity between US$10 000 and US$4 500.

-lExplain why those who worked in Harare during the summit where no eligible.

A US$10 000 allowance for one week’s work is enough to pay about 33 lowest paid government workers in one month.

It also translates to US$1 429 per day, or five months’ pay for one lowly paid civil servant.

The lowest paid government worker takes home about US$297 per month.

Even more startling is the fact that the officials at the centre of attempts to drain thousands from public coffers sit at the apex of a government that is struggling to meet its growing population’s demand.

They have at their disposal all statistics indicating that over 63 percent of Zimbabweans are living in abject poverty.

Zimbabwe used the summit as the springboard to reshape bad global perceptions that have triggered stunted growth, low investment inflows and a slide in the arrival of high spending tourists.

Prior to these revelations, the ministry had had a hard time staying below the radar, with many pats at the back for a job well done during the UNWTO conference, which can only be hosted by Zimbabwe again 300 years from now.